Human Female Mate Choice from an Evolutionary Perspective
What do humans find attractive?
Human female mate choice and selection has been topic of interest both in the scientific community and in popular culture. In popular culture there are books and websites giving women pointers on finding the ideal mate. There are shows on T.V. perpetuating stereotypes of what an ideal mate should look like, act like, be like. But what are the core attributes that cause women to be attracted to certain males? What are the evolutionary mechanisms that cause one male to be more attractive than another? The subject of human female mate selection is vast and diverse, but there are some scientific studies that may shed some light on the topic.
Facial characteristics and mate selection
Facial characteristics may be a factor in determining whether females select certain males over other males. Experiments conducted by Kruger (2006) sought to investigate this link. The author conducted three experiments to investigate women’s reactions to masculine and feminine male faces. One study geometrically manipulated the look of the males face and measured the ratings given to each face. The second study tested the mating trade off hypothesis that a “woman’s partner preference should be related to the length of the relationship and expectations for genetic and parental investments.” (p.455). The author hypothesized that if females choose males based on facial masculinity, then attributions based on personality and reproductive strategy would also be linked to facial masculinity. The final study had participant’s group behavioral tendencies, high mating effort/risk strategies and high parenting/risk adverse strategies between masculine or feminine faces. Kruger concluded that “Highly masculine faces are associated with riskier and more competitive behavioral strategies, higher mating effort, and lower parenting effort in comparison to less masculine faces.” (p.460). The author found that women tend to choose men with masculine faces for short term relationships, but favored men with feminine faces for long term relationships/marriage. One possible explanation for this conclusion is that men with masculine faces may have other attributes associated with masculinity. They may have higher testosterone levels, engage in risky behaviors (hunting, competition for mates, conduct war), and may not survive long enough to be considered for a long term relationship. Men with feminine faces may not be seen as engaging in these risky behaviors, therefore they may live a long time and be able to increase their parental investment in their offspring.
Women compare each other
The way that women compare themselves to other women may influence the type of males they find attractive. A study conducted by Little and Mannion (2006) investigated the correlation between self attractiveness and preferences for male masculinity. The study measured and recorded the responses of 65 women from age 16-45. They were asked to rate the attractiveness of 40 women on a scale from 1-10 from an online database. Then the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about self ratings and body attractiveness. During the final portion of the experiment women were shown 10 pairs of male faces, one masculine and one feminine, and were asked to select the most attractive face. The results indicated that women who viewed images of attractive women rated themselves lower on the self-report questionnaire and demonstrated a preference for men’s faces that were less masculine. However, women who viewed the pictures of unattractive women rated themselves higher on the self-report questionnaire and demonstrated a preference for more masculine faces. The researchers concluded that “If intrasexual competition for mates in females is based on such uncontrollable traits, we might expect them to have sophisticated mechanisms for estimating their relative worth within a population.” (p.985). The study indicates that women adjust their preferences in mate selection based on their own self perception and self esteem. Women who perceive themselves as attractive may be more confident and select masculine males as potential mates. These women may see their rewards in having offspring who are attractive, more capable of finding mates of their own in a competitive environment.
Female control of resources
The effects of female control of resources may have an impact on the mates that women select. Research conducted by Moore, Cassidy, Smith and Perrett (2006) investigated the effects of the amount of resources women have and their mate preferences. The authors recruited 2788 heterosexual female participants’ age 18-35 years old to participate in the study. The participants answered a questionnaire asking about demographic information. They were also asked about the relationship they would prefer if they were looking for one on the day of testing. To measure control of resources, participants were asked to rank on a scale form 1-7 the importance of career, access to resources, financial independence, and how much input they have on decisions at home. And finally they were asked to rank 13 characteristics in order of importance in a potential partner for a long term relationship. The sample characteristics included good financial prospects, ambition and industriousness, favorable social status, and physical attractiveness. The results from the study indicated that women who controlled their own resources would chose physically attractive mates and were more tolerant if they were younger than them. Their mate’s level of resources wasn’t a factor. Women who didn’t control their resources chose mates who had more financial resources and were older than they were. The findings suggest that women who control their own resources may not see the capability of their mates providing resources as important as the women who don’t control their own. Women who don’t have many resources may select their mate on the level of parental investment that they can provide for their offspring.
Workman, L., & Reader, W. (2004). Evolutionary Psychology, an introduction. (455, 460, 985) Cambridge, UK. Cambridge University Press
Kruger DJ. Male facial masculinity influences attributions of personality and reproductive strategy.Personal Relationships. 2006;13:451–463
Little, A.C., & Mannion, H. (2006). Viewing attractive or unattractive same-sex individuals changes self-rated attractiveness and face preferences in women. Animal Behavior, 72, 981-987.
Moore, F.R., Cassidy, C., Smith, M.J.L., & Perrett, D.I. (2006a). The effects of female control of resources sex-differentiated mate preferences. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27, 193-205.
© 2008 Augustine A. Zavala